a) Chance for peace: on US and North Korea’s relations

The visit by a South Korean delegation to Pyongyang and the subsequent North Korean offer to hold talks with the U.S. mark perhaps the most serious attempt in a decade to reduce tensions in the peninsula. South Korean officials who met the North’s leader, Kim Jong-un, said Pyongyang is willing to denuclearise if the military threat to the North is eliminated and its security guaranteed. The situation has been fraught since the election of Donald Trump as U.S. President, especially after he threatened the North with “fire and fury”. As Pyongyang continued its weapons programme, Washington kept up economic pressure with biting new sanctions. But even in the face of tensions and repeated war rhetoric from both North Korea and the U.S., South Korean President Moon Jae-in kept open the diplomatic channels after assuming office last summer. This strategy appears to have yielded the current breakthrough. The North first sent Kim Yo-jong, Mr. Kim’s influential sister, to the opening ceremony of the Winter Olympics in South Korea last month, which was followed by the meeting between the South Korean officials and Mr. Kim. Both Koreas have now agreed to hold a summit between Mr. Kim and Mr. Moon, while the North has promised to suspend nuclear and ballistic missile tests if talks with the U.S. are initiated. This is a marked shift from the aggressive foreign policy that Mr. Kim has pursued since he succeeded his father in 2011. It also signals that his militaristic foreign policy is linked to perceptions about the survival of his regime, something for which he may be willing to reach a diplomatic settlement with the U.S. Raising hopes further, Mr. Trump has responded cautiously, calling the diplomatic outreach “a serious process… by all parties concerned”. Still, the path ahead will not be smooth, given the lack of trust between the U.S. and North Korea and the bitter experience of the past engagement. Even days after South Korea issued a statement about the North’s willingness to discuss denuclearisation and normalisation of ties with the U.S., Pyongyang is yet to confirm it. It could be waiting for a more concrete response from the U.S. Meanwhile, for Mr. Trump, who favours a muscular foreign policy and who even attacked his Secretary of State Rex Tillerson for pursuing talks with North Korea, Pyongyang’s offer poses both an opportunity and a challenge. He can embrace both if he is serious about defusing the nuclear tensions in the Korean peninsula. If a clear and realistic plan for negotiation comes directly from Pyongyang, the U.S. should enable a conducive environment for such talks by delaying the next military exercises with South Korea, scheduled to take place in April.

  1. b) A new NAM for the new norm

From all accounts, the Cold War is breaking out again. The United States has identified both China and Russia as adversaries, whose leaders, Xi Jinping and Vladimir Putin, are strong and determined to stand up to a faltering Donald Trump, who is desperately clinging on to doctrines of ultranationalism and nuclear hegemony.

The Russia dare

Mr. Putin has just announced that Russia has invincible doomsday machines like an underwater drone armed with a nuclear warhead powerful enough to sweep away coastal facilities, aircraft carriers and a hypersonic vehicle impossible to intercept as it flies in a cloud of plasma “like a meteorite”. Cuba is in the doghouse again and the “axis of evil” has emerged once again under Iran’s leadership. This time it is a three-cornered Cold War, without any corner having committed countries to act together as military allies. Potential allies are hedging, with no viable grouping to protect the interests of the weak and the poor. If the Cold War is here in a new form, can a reincarnation of the Non-Aligned Movement (NAM) be far behind? NAM is anathema today even to those who helped shape it and revelled in it for years. India was one of its leaders, if not the leader. India had a stake in its integrity and India toiled tirelessly to keep it on the middle road, not to be hijacked by Cuba to the left or Singapore to the right. We fought to keep Egypt within it when every Arab country wanted it to be ousted in 1979 after the Camp David agreements. Indira Gandhi risked a bear hug from Fidel Castro as she took the NAM gavel to save it from the uncertain leadership of Iraq. Had it not been for India, NAM would have been wound up at a ministerial meeting in Ghana in 1991 soon after the collapse of the Berlin Wall. It was characterised as the “last gasp of the old style radicals”. India argued vehemently against those who felt that NAM had outlived its utility. Since the essence of nonalignment was freedom of thought and action, India insisted that it was valid whether there was one bloc or no bloc. Even while building alliances with others, we availed of the NAM umbrella to promote our national strategies when it suited us. The very lack of homogeneity and unity in NAM enhanced its utility for us. One forum where we effectively used the NAM constituency was the Working Group on UN Reform, where we blocked an effort by the U.S. and others to add Germany and Japan as permanent members and close the doors for further expansion.

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An effort was made in 2012 to craft a ‘Nonalignment 2.0’ in the context of the new global situation, India’s growing importance and the rivalry between the U.S. and China. The report moved the concept of nonalignment away from its origins. It reiterated that India needed to move quickly to extend its global role and influence. But the authors said India’s big challenge would be to aim at not just being powerful but to set new standards for what the powerful must do. India’s legitimacy in the world will come from its ability to stand for the highest human and universal values and at the global level, “India must remain true to its aspiration of creating a new and alternative universality.” In a situation where the world is no longer bifurcated between two dominant powers, nonalignment today will require managing complicated coalitions and opportunities in an environment that is not structurally settled, the report said. The policy of “strategic autonomy” recommended that India should not take sides in the rivalry between China and the U.S. The report emphasised that for its strategic and foreign policy to be successful, India must sustain domestic economic growth, social inclusion and democracy. Coming as it did in the wake of a strategic partnership with the U.S., a revival of NAM, even with caveats of various kinds, did not seem to appeal either to the Manmohan Singh government or the opposition Bharatiya Janata Party. For Prime Minister Narendra Modi too, NAM was nothing but a relic of the Nehruvian past and it did not form part of his vocabulary. As he pursued his priorities of development, security, neighbourhood and the diaspora, maintaining a constituency of the poor nations of the world had no place. In his transactional foreign policy, it is easier to act alone rather than as the spokesperson of a group. It was no wonder, therefore, that he did not find it necessary to attend the NAM Summit in Venezuela in 2016. India, which conceived and nursed the concept, was ready to cast it into the dustbin of history. We began a journey from the leadership of the super poor to become a super power.

Where we stand today

Into the second half of his term, Mr. Modi’s balance sheet shows an altogether different scenario. As a close defence partner of the U.S. and a member of the “Quadrilateral”, India is right in the U.S. camp. As the baton of the orchestra passed into the hands of a wayward conductor, the new symphony in India-U.S. relations promised in 2016 has not quite materialised. Both China and Russia, which have been identified as adversaries in the U.S. world view, have their problems with India. Doklam and the Maldives have shown that China is in no mood for a compromise. In fact, China has attributed the increase of its defence budget to the formation of the Quadrilateral, which is being seen as a direct threat to China. An obvious way is to revive NAM by breathing new life into it and making it fit to deal with the new norm. But it has baggage, which may be difficult to unload. A movement conceived in the context of a bipolar world may not suit a tripolar world, which could become a multipolar world. A partnership of near equals like IBSA (India, Brazil and South Africa) with similar interests without any ideological conflict is probably the best model to follow. Something on the lines of the G-15 organised by India and like-minded countries some years ago could be put together with the objective of dealing with the kind of issues identified by Mr. Modi at Davos — climate change, terrorism and protectionism. The members may have links with the U.S., China and Russia, but should be able to work together without the undue influence of the three. Mr. Modi is not someone who will hesitate to think out of the box to achieve his objectives. Given the present impasse in international relations with little leeway for game-changing initiatives, India will do well to move away from being a camp follower of one of the emerging poles to create our own fourth pole.


1) Delegation

Meaning: The action or process of delegating or being delegated.

Example: “the delegation of power to the district councils”

Synonyms: Assignment, Devolution

2) Denuclearise

Meaning: Remove nuclear weapons from.

Example: “the US said it would denuclearize most of its naval vessels”

3) Fraught

Meaning: (of a situation or course of action) filled with (something undesirable).

Example: “marketing any new product is fraught with danger”

Synonyms: Filled with

4) Rhetoric

Meaning: Language designed to have a persuasive or impressive effect, but which is often regarded as lacking in sincerity or meaningful content.

Example: “all we have from the Opposition is empty rhetoric”

Synonyms: Bombast, Bragging

5) Breakthrough

Meaning: A sudden, dramatic, and important discovery or development.

Example: “a major breakthrough in the fight against AIDS”

Synonyms: Advance, Development

Antonyms: Setback

6) Aggressive

Meaning: Ready or likely to attack or confront; characterized by or resulting from aggression.

Example: “he’s very uncooperative and aggressive”

Synonyms: Hostile, Bellicose

Antonyms: Meek, Friendly

7) Perceptions

Meaning: Intuitive understanding and insight; the way in which something is regarded, understood, or interpreted.

Example: “‘He wouldn’t have accepted,’ said my mother with unusual perception”

Synonyms: Insight, Percipience

8) Muscular

Meaning: Vigorously robust.

Example: “a muscular economy”

Synonyms: Vigorous, Robust

Antonyms: Weak, Feeble

9) Defusing

Meaning: Make (a situation) less tense or dangerous.

Example: “a scheme that teaches officers how to defuse potentially explosive situations”

Synonyms: Deactivate, Disarm

Antonyms: Activate

10) Conducive

Meaning: Making a certain situation or outcome likely or possible.

Example: “the harsh lights and cameras were hardly conducive to a relaxed atmosphere”

Synonyms: Favourable, Beneficial

Antonyms: Unfavourable

11) Faltering

Meaning: Lose strength or momentum.

Example: “the music faltered, stopped, and started up again”

Synonyms: Hesitate, Delay

12) Desperately

Meaning: Used to emphasize the extreme degree of something.

Example: “he desperately needed a drink”

Synonyms: Seriously, Gravely

Antonyms: Slightly

13) Clinging on

Meaning: To try very hard to keep something.

Example: He clung on to power for another ten years.

Synonyms: Keeping

14) Doctrines

Meaning: A belief or set of beliefs held and taught by a Church, political party, or other group.

Example: “the doctrine of predestination”

Synonyms: Creed, Credo

15) Hegemony

Meaning: Leadership or dominance, especially by one state or social group over others.

Example: “Germany was united under Prussian hegemony after 1871”

Synonyms: Leadership, Dominance

Antonyms: Self-government

16) Doomsday

Meaning: A time or event of crisis or great danger.

Example: “in all the concern over greenhouse warming, one doomsday scenario stands out”

17) In the doghouse

Meaning: If you are in the doghouse, someone is annoyed with you and shows their disapproval.

Example: I’m in the doghouse – I broke Sara’s favourite vase this morning.

Synonyms: Humiliating, Degrading

18) Viable

Meaning: Capable of working successfully; feasible.

Example: “the proposed investment was economically viable”

Synonyms: Workable, Feasible

Antonyms: Impracticable

19) Reincarnation

Meaning: A new version of something from the past.

Example: “the latest reincarnation of the hippie look”

20) Anathema

Meaning: Something or someone that one vehemently dislikes.

Example: “racial hatred was anathema to her”

Synonyms: Abhorrent, Hateful

21) Revelled

Meaning: Gain great pleasure from (a situation).

Example: “Bill said he was secretly revelling in his new-found fame”

Synonyms: Enjoy, Adore

Antonyms: Hate

22) Toiled

Meaning: Work extremely hard or incessantly.

Example: “we toiled away”

Synonyms: Labour, Drudge

Antonyms: Rest, Relax

23) Ousted

Meaning: Drive out or expel (someone) from a position or place.

Example: “the reformists were ousted from power”

Synonyms: Expel, Remove

24) Bear hug

Meaning: The action of putting your arms around someone very tightly and quite roughly.

Synonyms: Showing affection

25) Vehemently

Meaning: In a forceful, passionate, or intense manner; with great feeling.

Example: “he vehemently denied any suggestion of improper conduct”

26) Rivalry

Meaning: Competition for the same objective or for superiority in the same field.

Example: “there always has been intense rivalry between the clubs”

Synonyms: Contention, Competition

27) Legitimacy

Meaning: Conformity to the law or to rules.

Example: “refusal to recognize the legitimacy of both governments”

28) Bifurcated

Meaning: Divide into two branches or forks.

Example: “just below Cairo the river bifurcates”

29) Emphasised

Meaning: Give special importance or value to (something) in speaking or writing.

Example: “they emphasize the need for daily, one-to-one contact between parent and child”

Synonyms: Highlight, Foreground

Antonyms: Understate

30) Caveats

Meaning: A warning or proviso of specific stipulations, conditions, or limitations.

Example: “there are a number of caveats which concern the validity of the assessment results”

Synonyms: Warning, Caution

31) Relic

Meaning: An object surviving from an earlier time, especially one of historical interest.

Example: “a museum of railway relics”

Synonyms: Antiquity, Antique

32) Diaspora

Meaning: The dispersion or spread of any people from their original homeland.

Example: “the diaspora of boat people from Asia”

33) Nursed

Meaning: Take special care of, especially to promote development or well-being.

Example: “our political unity needs to be protected and nursed”

Synonyms: Encourage, Nurture

34) Wayward

Meaning: Difficult to control or predict because of willful or perverse behaviour.

Example: “a wayward adolescent”

Synonyms: Willful, Stubborn

Antonyms: Well behaved, Docile

35) Materialised

Meaning: Appear or be present when expected.

Example: “the train failed to materialize”

Synonyms: Appear, Arrive

Antonyms: Disappear

36) Adversaries

Meaning: One’s opponent in a contest, conflict, or dispute.

Example: “Davis beat his old adversary in the quarter-finals”

Synonyms: Opponent, Rival

Antonyms: Ally, Supporter

37) Conceived

Meaning: Form or devise (a plan or idea) in the mind.

Example: “the dam project was originally conceived in 1977”

Synonyms: Frame, Invent

38) Protectionism

Meaning: The actions of a government to help its country’s trade or industry by taxing goods bought from other countries.

Synonyms: Taxation

39) Impasse

Meaning: A situation in which no progress is possible, especially because of disagreement; a deadlock.

Example: “the current political impasse”

Synonyms: Deadlock, Stalemate

40) Leeway

Meaning: The amount of freedom to move or act that is available.

Example: “the government had greater leeway to introduce reforms”

Synonyms: Freedom, Scope

Antonyms: Constraint, Restriction

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